Look away if you’re squeamish

Astronomers have spotted a tiny star being gobbled up by a black hole in one of the biggest explosions ever witnessed in the universe.
The blast lasted only a few milliseconds before the star’s dying screams were snuffed out by the cosmic cannibal in a single gulp.
But the violent scene in a distant galaxy was witnessed by instruments aboard Nasa’s Swift and Chandra satellites as they were bombarded with gamma rays from the event.
A black hole is an object so massive and dense that even light cannot escape its gravitational pull.
Scientists believe its victim was a neutron star – a star so dense that just a thimbleful of its matter weighs billions of tons.
It had been orbiting the black hole for billions of years.
The explosion, in a galaxy 3,000 million light years away, is revealed in the science journal Nature this week.
Professsor Peter Meszaros of Penn State University, Pennsylvania, said: “There’s only one thing I know of that could rip apart a neutron star with bits flying out, and that’s a black hole.”

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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